A Day in Toledo

Today was an early day on our exploration of Madrid. I set my alarm for 8:30, planning to just roll out of bed and hop on the bus. Instead of exploring around Madrid, we visited the old capital of Spain: Toledo. The hour drive there was nice, as I was able to listen to an album I have been meaning to listen to forever, and as it was so early compared to our other days in Spain, no one was in the mood to talk. Once we entered the city, everyone began to marvel at the sight of it all. Compared to Madrid, Toledo had a much older and rustic look to it, which reminded me a lot of the time I was in Italy. As we drove up the winding streets, we approached a place to park where we could get out and take in the view.

Looking back on it now, it is tough for me to put into words on how beautiful the view was. Being able to see almost the entirety of the city was breathtaking. We were able to get plenty of photos up there, and once we got back from the trip, most of my friends ended up posting pictures from there since it was such a great view. Once we had spent ten or so minutes up there, we were gestured to get back on to the bus in order to continue the tour of the city.

The bus driver drove for about five or so more minutes before he stopped in front of a bridge, where the walking leg of the tour was going to start. As we started to walk up the city, I was in awe of how every single part of this city had an amazing view. Even when we later got to the center of Toledo where it was much more like an actual city, there were some pathways that led to spectacular views. 

One of the first stops we took after we walked up the steep streets was a cathedral where the tour guide actually got married. This stop was quite short, as the staff there were setting up for a marriage ceremony. After we got kicked out, we went to an even larger cathedral known as Catedral de Toledo. What impressed me most about this stop was the architecture, from the stained glass to the carved figures on the wood. Every aspect about this cathedral impressed me. As we exited, we were able to see some paintings as well, along with the painted ceiling which reminded me of other stops we had taken on our trip. 

Before we were let loose to find a place to eat, we checked out Museo del Ejercito, which focused around the Spanish military. When we entered it, we were able to see the remains of the original building that were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. After the museum, we were let loose to figure out where to eat, so we ended up splitting up and my group of people decided to go to a Mexican restaurant. While it was decent, I was just happy to eat, as I was not able to hit breakfast before we left this morning. After lunch, we went back to the hotel. Since we had to travel back on Sunday, we were getting our COVID tests done today, and I hope that I never have to take one like that again.

Once we all had our tests and we found out none of us were positive, we broke off once again and I decided to try and hit the Prado before we left, but it was full, so we settled on going to La Reina Sofia museum again since Na’imah had not been yet. While we were cutting it close, we made it back to the hotel in time to meet for the API goodbye dinner. It was an overall great dinner, as I was able to spend it with all of the friends I made on this trip. I know this blog post is just about this day, but I am so grateful I was able to go on this trip and meet the people who went as well. Being able to explore a city over 3000 miles away from our school really bonds people together. This final dinner was the perfect wrap up of the trip before we all parted ways to go back home and eventually meet up again for our final meeting.

-Layne Thistlewood

A Week in Review

On the morning of Friday March 4th, 2022, the nerves began to kick in. I had just woken up knowing that I had a plane to catch in 5 short hours. There was a mix of emotions circling in my head. I was anxious thinking about the 8-hour flight, stressing to make sure everything was packed, nervous that I wouldn’t get along with my peers, and overall worried that this experience would not be all that I hoped it would be. Little did I know that just 9 days later, all of our lives would be forever changed after experiencing the glorious atmosphere and culture of Madrid. We spent this time learning about the city’s history, breaking language barriers, seeing mesmerizing sites and landmarks, and creating lifelong friendships. Every day was so packed with moments and activities that I do not think I can fit them all into one blog post, but here is an attempted summary of the amazing week we had.

Saturday did not have too much going on other than an organized group dinner during the evening. For me, this was nice, and I took advantage of being able to recover from jet lag and get some much-needed rest. Others spent the day exploring the area of Puerta del Sol right down the street from our hotel, which many call the Times Square of Madrid. There was never a dull day in Sol, where we found many shops, restaurants, and locals all packed into the area.

Tile located in Puerta del Sol indicating the center of Spain

On Sunday, we found ourselves exploring the Royal Palace of Madrid. I have never seen a building quite like it. On the inside, paintings covered the ceilings and gold lined the walls. Our guide taught us about Spain’s early history up to the present day through each room we visited. Seeing how many rooms made up the palace gave me the realization that the majority of them were most likely wasted space. Having a specific room for changing your clothes and a specific room for doing your hair makes no sense to me. Not to mention the table in the dining room that has seating for over 100 guests. I suppose that’s just what it is like to be able to live a royal lifestyle.

View from the entrance of the Royal Palace in Madrid

On Tuesday we traveled to the Valley of the Fallen, where we could feel the burden of its history as soon as we saw the 500ft cross from a distance. We had learned a couple weeks prior that this site was built by prisoners of the Spanish dictator, and also serves as their graves. Knowing the history of the site and the controversy that has come along with it over the years, I could not help but have goosebumps as soon as we stepped inside. I can safely say that there are not many places in the world that can make someone feel like an ant walking on the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But here, traversing through a tomb carved into a mountain, you truly feel that small.

Outside view of the Valley of the Fallen

Wednesday night came along, and I was beyond excited to achieve one of my personal goals of the trip which was attending a Champions League soccer game. Growing up I have watched this iconic competition and have never thought I would ever get the opportunity to experience it for myself. Real Madrid vs PSG, a sold out 80,000+ crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Lionel Messi, Neymar, a one goal difference on aggregate after the first leg, there’s not much more to say than that to set the tone. Long story short, seeing a three-goal comeback from the home team thanks to a hat trick from their star striker took both my ears and voice over two days to recover from. Looking back on it I wouldn’t have it any other way and being able to be there in the first place was a once in a lifetime experience for me that I’ll never forget.

My seat for the game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium

Thursday took us to Plaza de Toros, where bull fights have gone on for centuries. I quickly learned that the sport of bullfighting has a lot more to it than I originally thought. Although I don’t entirely agree with the morals of the competition, as there are more ways to prove one’s pride than to slay a bull in front of hundreds of spectators, it was interesting, nonetheless. Later that day, a few friends and I visited Retiro Park, where a day filled with walking through endless trails and rowing a boat on a massive pond followed. Being in such a big park reminded me of being in Central Park in New York.

Outside view of Plaza de Toros

There are many more highlights of this experience that I would love to discuss, such as countless metro rides, drinking cafe con leche at 5pm without worrying about being awake all night, taking part in a wine tasting along with classic Spanish cuisine, and visiting Toledo, the former capital of Spain. Many of these moments can be read about in the blogs of my friends, which have been posted prior to mine. I am not only grateful for all the new memories and friends I have made, but I have learned that one should never be afraid to take a step away from what they know just because they are comfortable, or even worried about what they’ll find. It is important to branch out and step out of one’s comfort zone because that is the only way to truly see all that the world has to offer. 

Group picture with the city of Toledo in the background

Millenia of Craftsmanship in One Week

8 days. 

192 hours. 

11520 minutes.

And every one of those minutes spent in the moment.  Immersed in the rich history, culture, and atmosphere of a fairytale city.  Metro stations in constant flux, tapas bars filled with incoherent speech, and illuminated buildings that seem more alive at night.

Every morning I walk out of the hotel Regina, fueled by serrano and napolitana, under the gaze of massive statues that seem to guard the streets.  The royal red and gold of the Spanish flag whip in the morning breeze, flanked on either side by immortalized soldiers riding horse carriages.  I am reminded of this country’s deep history, and what I have set out to do here.  To experience Madrid, the center of the Spanish Civil War, is my assignment.  A tall order, for Madrid has no lack of landmarks and stories.  With the clock ticking, I need to spend my time wisely

View from outside the Regina Hotel

Sunday is spent at Madrid’s Royal Palace.  A guided tour of this extravagant house of nobility sets the stage for Spain’s early history.  Tributes to Charles III recur throughout the halls, his unmistakable giant nose setting him apart from the other majesties.  Each room is dedicated to a single chore or activity you could conceive.  A changing a room, a dining room, a bedroom, a throne room, a sitting room, the list continues.  None of which have a single empty panel on the wall or ceiling.  So much splendor for kings and queens only together for political partnership, what a shame.

Madrid’s Royal Palace

Monday evening is spent in The Reina Sofia, Madrid’s premiere modern art museum.  Accompanying the contemporaries are classics by Dalí and Picasso.  On the second floor, in its own room stands Guernica, at 11 x 25 ft in all its brilliance.  Scenes of suffering with cubist representation evoke discomfort and anxiety.  Oil brushstrokes illustrate the chaos of Guernica’s horrific bombing on a massive canvas.  Several pieces by Dalí depict vaguely familiar items in strange proximity with each other that tell a larger story.  So much detail, but it hurts the brain to look at it for too long.  Dream-like qualities to these images beg more questions the longer I stare.  How can I begin to understand surrealism?

Tuesday is a field trip to the Valley of the Fallen.  The enormous mausoleum, subject of much controversy in the country, holds a tremendous literal and figurative weight to it.  Under the 150-meter cross stand giants, who mourn over the souls that rest in the basilica.  Surrounding the esplanade in the distance are the mountains, which stand even taller than the statues atop the monument.  This place is larger than life.  The sheer size of it, and the story of its 30,000 corpses evoke a palpable reverence.  Walking through it feels like a walk-through time and puts the bloodshed of the Civil War into a sobering perspective.  Regardless of their side in the conflict, these soldiers paid the ultimate price for their country, and for that they are forever memorialized.

Valley of the Fallen Monument

Thursday afternoon is spent at Plaza Las Ventas, home to Spain’s most glorious bull fights.  What a sport, there is truly nothing else like it.  This is the pinnacle of pitting man against wild.  What more glory could an individual win than by slaying a 1,000lb beast of nature, hellbent on killing you, in front of thousands.  It’s a death sentence to any normal individual.  But to a matador, it is tradition.  Swift movements, patience, and hyper focus are names of the game.  How do you conquer a creature determined to see its horns in your dead body?  Years of practice, and a tenacity unbeknownst to most, that’s how.

Our tour guide demonstrating proper Matador technique

Friday is a long day.  A day I’ve looked forward to for a long time.  I embark on a journey to see the famous Cave of Altamira in Cantabria.  With paintings dating back several millennia, Altamira is one of the first evidences of human art.  At 1,000 meters long, the cave is an impressive display of how our ancient ancestors lived and expressed their relationship with nature.  Paintings of bison, deer, and buffalo crowd the ceiling.  Painted with careful craftsmanship, these animals tell a story of this land, and how the people regarded them with respect and adoration.  The attention to detail would make you think they were painted today but it seems the artistic genius of humans’ dates back to our species’ conception.  After seeing the Cave of Altamira, it’s no wonder Spain is home to some of the most impressive craftsmanship on the planet.  Between the artists, architecture, and sports, Spain is a hotspot for human expertise.  And it all started in this Cave.  The legacy of these cave paintings inspires generations of artists and professionals perfecting their craft.  As Picasso once said, “after Altamira everything is decadence.”

From the Ceiling of the Altamira Cave

Saturday is spent in Toledo, the former capital of Spain.  Even more of a fairy tale than Madrid, Toledo is littered with Roman and Arabic influence.  Giant cathedrals, and a castle just above the River Tajo transport you to a more romantic time in human history.  Also a major stage for the Civil War, Toledo has endured much, speaking to the resolve of the Spanish people and the incredible structures they are capable of creating.

View of Toledo

And that’s all she wrote.  My 11520 minutes are up.  I accomplished everything I set out to do and did so in an intentional manner.  I’ve only begun to reflect on this adventure and will continue to for a lifetime.

Spanish Food and Wine Class

I love trying new experiences! On our second to last day, Friday, we had a wine tasting class and food tour. I was super excited because I have never done a wine tasting class and know next to nothing about wine since it is illegal to buy alcohol in the United States when under 21 years old. Since I don’t have a taste for wine, I was intrigued to learn more about a drink Spain is famous for. We began by learning about Spanish culture and customs when eating.

The instructor and the wine y tapas we received

Spanish culture and Customs:

 It was eye-opening learning how differently Spanish people view eating as not only a physical activity but a social one too. The way of sharing a table in the United States of America is literally physically sharing a space and a seat, whereas in Spain it is more important who you’re sharing a seat with. For example, it is normalized to sit near someone you may not know when grabbing a bite of lunch and not talk to them in the United States, but in Spain, there is a cultural expectation to socialize and talk to anyone next to them, even if they don’t particularly want to or know the person. Eating in the USA is very fast and not every meal allows time for social interactions, but since Spain has a few hours when the whole city stops for a midday siesta, this allows plenty of time to talk and catch up with others around. 

Spanish food and diets:

Next, we learned about some types of special Spanish food! She taught us about tapas, which are a complimentary snack a restaurant will offer. 

Some of the tapas that she prepared for our class!

It can be anything as simple as a dish of olives, nuts, or pieces of bread with ham and cheese! They are called tapas because it’s the Spanish word for “top or cap” since they would be used by placing on top of the drink to prevent dust or bugs into their liquor! I love this idea and realized that I had received tapas at some small restaurants which were delicious. On a previous day, we had received some pieces of bread with ham and cheese on top. I remember being excited but confused when we realized they were free! At this point in the presentation, I was getting hungry looking at all this good food she was showing us. Afterward, we learned about the Mediterranean diet that most people in Spain tend to follow since Spain is a big peninsula. It consists of two main ingredients: olive oil and fresh vegetables. Other parts of a local Spanish diet are ham, seafood, and garlic. All of these options sounded like my type of food! I noticed there were a lot of ham places when walking around Spain this week. I’d bet you can’t make it 100 meters around Spain without running into a ham shop or a place that’s menu has ham dishes. You can see Iberian ham legs hanging from the ceiling in the local grocery, which as she explained can get very pricey because of where they are grown and their diet of only acorns.

On to the tasting!

Finally, it was time to bring out the food. We were given a plate with three different pieces of food. One was a cracker with cheese and a jam-like paste on top, next was an onion and potato tortilla that the instructor homemade on some bread, and lastly some pieces of chorizo which is spicy meat on more bread. 

Pouring the wine in our glasses

With the food making us incredibly hungry, she then brought out the wine. She quickly realized I didn’t drink wine because of how I held my glass of wine. I grabbed the glass by the bottom of the cup, which is incorrect because wine should be ideally chilled and the warmth of your hand will warm up the wine. So, as she explained, a true wine connoisseur would hold the glass by the stem to keep the drink most cold.

Incorrectly holding the wine glass!

I learned the difference between white, red, and rosé wine was the amount of skin they would have in the juice. White wine is fermented with no skins, red contains skins, and rose has skins for a short period to give it its soft pink color.

When you first get the wine you use all 5 senses and the bottle label to evaluate the smell, color, consistency, where it was made, and the age of the liquor. Another thing I learned was how to determine the alcohol content in wine. We were taught to swirl our wine glasses on the bench and watch the tears that formed and fall on the sides of the glass. Slower falling tears meant less alcohol content, whereas faster falling tears meant a higher percentage of alcohol. 

The white wine we tasted

White wine!

We first tried the white wine, which was an 11% Marisqueiro Ribeiro. It was a lighter, semi-sweet wine with slow falling tears and sparkling clear color. We learned that since cork was expensive, younger wines, such as the white wine we were trying were capped with a plastic cork, to lessen the cost of the wine. But for older wines, cork tops were necessary since the wine needs to breathe as it develops. When storing a bottle of wine, you must lay it on its side in order to allow the maximum surface area of the wine to breathe. She described the wine as being “alive” and suffocating it would be effectively killing the wine. Leave the wine a little to allow it to grow in taste and mature, but leave it for too long, and it dies and tastes vinegar.

We were instructed to first take a sip and let it sit in our mouths for a second to decipher the tastes. Then swirl and take another sip to see how the flavor changes and evolves. 

The red wine we tasted

Red wine

Lastly, we tried the red wine which was a conde de tresaguas, 14% deep red wine. It was a stronger wine that had faster-falling drips. This was paired with the tapas from earlier, which changed the flavor profile of the wine! When I tried it, it made the taste of the red wine more intense and bring out a stronger flavor overall.

Overall, I enjoyed this unique experience. It was fascinating to eat and drink food that Spain is most known for. I highly recommend the wine class to anyone interested in learning more about Spanish culture and food, even if you don’t enjoy drinking wine, there was far more that I learned by experiencing the culture first-hand right in the heart of Madrid, Spain.


The day started off with a walking tour of the Spanish Civil War. It was interesting to hear about the events of the war from a new perspective, in the locations where they happened. The area of what is now Parque de La Montaña used to hold a large military barracks crucial to the defense of Madrid during the war. The park provided a beautiful view of Madrid, which explains why it attracts so many people. During our walk we saw other tourist groups, couples, families, and a man playing guitar.

Parque de La Montaña

On our way back from the tour we passed by the royal palace where we saw the guards for the first time. It was surreal to see the tradition of the guards on horses contrasted to the Spanish police openly carrying guns standing just a few yards away. Both have the intention of enforcing order and protecting the palace, but one is symbolic with deep historical roots and the other is an adaptation to the modern world and government of present Spain. I took special note of this because I am currently studying criminal justice.

Guards of the royal palace

My favorite part of the day was the free time we had. I spent it with a My favorite part of the day was the free time we had. I spent it with a group of fellow students and explored the neighborhood of Malasaña. The neighborhood felt youthful, trendy, and busy. I noticed the streets were occupied with more young people than other areas of the city. We explored several thrift shops which provided a unique insight to the closets and trends of the locals. We found many t-shirts, sunglasses, handmade jewelry, leather jackets, and scarves. These thrift shops were very unique from the ones typically found back in the states. They were not large businesses like Goodwill or Savers, rather boutique-style shops each with their own individual theme and specialty. One had many leather and rock-style gods, another a large selection of 90s era windbreakers. There was an absence of maps and locater apps as we explored whatever caught our attention and followed our interests. The time spent wondering through random streets and shops felt as new and different as the city itself. The streets were bright, covered with shop signs and the common graffiti. I found that the graffiti somehow fit the energy of this neighborhood much more than in the others as it complimented the hipster theme.

Outside of a thrift shop
Street in Malasaña

For dinner we stopped at this market called Mercado de San
Idelfonso. The building consisted of three levels with various food vendors and seating inside and outside on a courtyard area. The food selection ranged from typical Spanish cuisine (croquettes, tortilla, Iberian ham) to sushi and tacos. We shared croquettes, chicken tacos, and potatoes. Market style eateries proved to be my favorite places to enjoy and share food. There is always a large variety, and the setup makes it easy to sample different foods at the same time. The tables of the patio were covered with mixed media style art, with some made with recycled food wrappers. This complemented the artsy side of Malasaña. After we finished eating, we explored some more secondhand shops before heading out to get some gelato. We enjoyed the treat in the aesthetic blue dessert shop and began walking back to the hotel.

After spending much of the early days on the trip near the hotel and Sol neighborhood, it was refreshing to explore a new area of the city. It was a reminder of just how large and diverse Madrid is. One moment you could be passing by a historical monument and the next a vintage rock-themed shop. Both hold significance to the city and the Spanish character.

This trip was my first time traveling abroad. I was determined to get out of my comfort zone and explore something new, to fully immerse myself in the unfamiliar. I had known no one in this group prior to departure. This day I was able to explore unknown streets with new friends. A sense of normalcy (which Covid-19 has taken from so many of us) was restored. I was able to prove to myself that I am capable of many things and can adapt to new challenges and situations. I am so grateful for the new experiences and friends that this trip has given me. I have learned the importance of travel and personal exploration, and the truth behind the idea that one cannot grow while surrounded by the familiar.

To Wine and Dine Like the Locals

Even before I touched down in Madrid, I had the goal to wine and dine like the locals. My grandmother had visited Southern Spain before and told me of the quality and freshness of the food here. The cuisine of Spain derives from both geographical features, being located on the Mediterranean, as well as historical ones. Knowing a little about the history of Spain being a place with all 3 of the major religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in one region at a certain point of time, I was excited to experience a culture inspired by many different walks of life. The Spanish are so serious about preserving the integrity of their food, there is also a concept called denomination that assigns traditional dishes and wines to certain regions to protect their cultural and creative property.

Bottle of white wine from the Ribeiro region of Spain. Notice the Denominacion de origen on the bottom.
Bottle of young, red wine from the Rioja region.

At the wine-tasting event, we learned about the proper steps to make drinking wine a holistic experience of almost all the senses because, as the lecturer had emphasized, wine is alive. First, you observe the wine. Is it glistening and clear? If it’s not, the wine is dead and maybe you should ask for a different bottle. Then, you pick up the glass from the stem to not alter the taste and quality of the wine with your body temperature. You then tilt the glass enough to see all the wine, so it is divided into 2 sections: the part of the drink near the rim and the rest of the body. These may be distinguishable by their different colors, especially in red wines. Next, it is time to smell the wine. This is done up to three times because wine simply sitting in the glass smells different than wine that has been freshly sloshed in either a clockwise or counterclockwise motion, just choose the one you prefer. After a fresh slosh, you can also observe the lagrimas (tears) dripping down the sides of the wine glass. If the tears drip down faster, there is more volume of alcohol and slower ones mean less. Finally, you can taste. Take a sip and hold it in your mouth for a second, let the flavor permeate in your mouth. They say that the wine in Spain, one of the wine capitals of the world along with France and Italy, can activate all your tongue’s flavor profiles: salty, sweet, umami, bitter, and sour. Though I don’t enjoy wine, I respect the ancient craft that has been honed to create a culture surrounding drinking it. The lecturer also provided us with tapas, free snacks that restaurants originally provided to cover wine glasses with to protect them from bugs and dust but have evolved to become an integral part of the Spanish eating experience. I enjoyed bread with hummus (because I don’t eat pork), bread with sheep’s milk cheese and a sweet fig paste as well as bread with homemade Spanish tortilla. White wine pairs well with tapas and meals with fish and white meat. Red wine pairs better with red meats and the Rosés are saved for dessert.

A classic and famous Spanish dessert are churros con chocolate. This isn’t your average melted Hershey’s chocolate; it is thick, rich, and creamy and just pairs so perfectly with the crisp, plain, and airy flavor/texture of the churros. Fun fact: churros are always thin, and the thicker ones are called porras. Learning all these interesting facts about wine and Spanish food was the group activity for the day. I believe it achieved its goal to enrich our experience in Madrid through expert knowledge, this woman being a professor in Spanish culture and the daughter of winemakers. Their expertise as both native Spaniards and experts in their fields put into perspective a Spain I would have never known unless I studied textbook after textbook. Instead, they made it an exciting and interactive experience by taking us on walking tours and having us try the cuisine for ourselves.

Churros and porras con chocolate from Madrid’s oldest chocolateria, San Gines.

As much as I love our planned activities, I also heavily enjoy the one that comes after: self-exploration. Throughout this trip, we had been encouraged to break off into smaller groups than our large 15-person mass and explore the city at greater depth. Sometimes, that entailed me walking in an uncertain direction and patiently awaiting the city to unveil itself to me. I had done this a few times already during our trip and its awesome! This is not to say that I hadn’t been culminating relationships with some of my classmates, so last night it had been easier to find a small group of 3 other people that had the same ideas about what the next step was after the lecture, and the obvious answer is dinner followed by dessert! In a true Spanish fashion, the small group of us tried each other’s meals, laughed over stupid jokes, divulged a bit about our lives, and created unforgettable memories. I am surely going to take home the importance of sharing a table from Spanish culture. In their eyes, a meal is another opportunity to make your bonds with people deeper. This is the way Spanish people wine and dine.

A Tour of Las Ventas

Bullfighting and Spain are two things that are synonymous with each other you truly can’t think of one without the other. Even before we traveled to Spain we learned about bullfighting through the stories of Hemmingway and his experience with the subject. And through reading these stories mixed with my prior knowledge I thought I understood bullfighting and how it influenced the culture in Spain, but after our tour of Las Ventas I realized truly how much I misunderstood.

We took the metro from our hotel to Las Ventas and the building it is held in is truly impressive. The red brick façade front is highlighted by Arabic influence seen in the arches and mosaic features throughout the facility. Another unique thing about the stadium itself is that you cannot drink inside the stadium, but you must take your drinks to these outdoor balconies. It is also one of the largest bullfighting stadiums in the world which is incredible because the sheer size of stadium is impressive. Outside of the stadium is a statue of a famous bullfighter Luis Dominguin who after a single bullfight decided to declare himself as number one which resulted in booing from the crowd. Despite the negative attention this received when it occurred it became a statue based off the sure fact that he had enough “cojones” to do such a move after a single bullfight win. Within the stadium the viewers sit on stone/concrete stadium benches where you can rent a seat cushion to sit on during the shows. A fun fact our tour guide told us about was that when Dominguin did this number 1 signal people actually threw their seat cushion at him onto the ring.

Our tour guide’s name was Raul, and he was the BEST tour guide I have ever had at a museum. From the start he had the best energy, and it was clear he was passionate about what he was talking about. He brought us around and told us the politics about bullfighting to the basics and everything in between. One of the interesting things I learned from him about the politics of bullfighting was that for decades there was controversy about the fact bullfights occurred on Sundays and holidays which Sunday is the lord’s day. I thought this was fascinating because bullfighting and religion are incredibly intertwined with bullfighters even waiting in a chapel before and after bullfights. Raul even gave us a demonstration of what the bullfighting starting cape moves looked like and how they are used to confuse the bull which was really cool.

            Despite not liking the idea of the torture of animals for sport and entertainment after our tour Raul showed me how I can appreciate the influence on culture while condemning the actions. He gave me a newfound appreciation for the art around it and those in it. Like the women bullfighters who broke into a male dominated sport that focuses on high masculinity due the gore and torture of an animal. Also, the art of the costumes these bullfighters wear is profoundly impressive where with gold and silver thread form beautiful flowers and designs. I loved the tour and I think it was mainly thanks to Raul, because if we had someone who was more pro-bullfighting, I think it would have been less exciting. But someone who made it history driven and focused on the culture made such a controversial sport interesting and impressive.

After Las Ventas

We visited Retiro Park after our tour of Las Ventas in search of the Palacio Cristal. This was one of the only things on my list of things I wanted to do outside of our study abroad activities in Madrid. I had a fantastic time, It was gorgeous weather and since the weather is warmer in Madrid in March there were already flowers blooming. There were pansies surrounding the fountain at one end of the park which was beautiful and there was a big pond that had row boats that you could rent. Eventually after walking around we discovered the Palacio Cristal, but to my dismay it was closed due to an art installation being set up inside. I was disappointed but even from the outside it was breathtaking. Since I did not get to go inside that is something on my list to do next time I go.

Later that night we went out to dinner at a rooftop restaurant called Dona Luz that I found after having difficulties making reservations for one that was nearby our hotel. It was covered in real plants and big enough for a large group. After talking to the rest of the group it turned out everyone wanted to come so we made reservations for all of us and went. It was located at the end of Gran Via that opened up into Puerta del Sol so the only view was really of the billboards in Sol. But the food was delicious, and everyone seemed to have a great time! It was almost like an early farewell dinner since it was the last dinner, we had all together that was not planned by our study abroad directors. After dinner we went and got churros con chocolate too which was the perfect way to end the night.

The Presence of The Past

Mindset for the Day 

One of my biggest reasons for coming to Madrid was to learn about its history since I had limited knowledge prior to enrolling in this course. Fortunately, throughout the trip, I believe I have been able to develop a deeper understanding of the country’s history, and what makes Madrid the city that it is today. Additionally, because my family comes from the Dominican Republic, a former colony of Spain, I had an even greater interest in how the Spain of the past has affected both countries today. Therefore, I paid extra attention during Wednesday’s Spanish Civil War tour.  

Visiting Plaza de España 

After a short walk through Gran Via, the group arrived at  
Plaza de España. There, our wonderful tour guide, Ana, proceeded to show us around the area while pointing out the historical buildings surrounding us. Two of the buildings mentioned included Edificio España and Torre de Madrid, which were built during Franco’s regime as a way to symbolize a time of prosperity for the country. Of course, Franco was a dictator and continues to be a very controversial figure, so this prosperity is full of dark moments.  

We were also able to see the Monument to Miguel Cervantes, the iconic Spanish writer who wrote the world-famous novel Don Quijote. Additionally, Ana also explained the state of Spain before, during, and after the civil war. Although we had heard much of this information prior to the trip, physically being in the city where everything happened affected the way in which I viewed the war. The weight and impact of the war are felt with greater intensity here, unlike the distant way in which it is usually perceived in a classroom. Especially with the current war in Ukraine, the parallels and relevance are saddening and disturbing.  

Temple of Debod 

Our tour then continued to Montaña Park. Something that stands out in the Montaña Park is the Egyptian Temple of Debod. As a dam was being built near this temple, the government decided that a way to protect the sites potentially affected by the construction was to gift them to other countries that assisted in preserving the temples. This is how the Temple of Debod ended up in Spain. It was erected stone by stone and in the same orientation as it was in Egypt. Something to note about the location of the temple is that this is where the Spanish uprising against Napoleon’s invasion occurred. This event is depicted in Francisco Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808. During the Civil War, it was used as army barracks. 


Our day continued with a self-guided tour through the Telefónica museum. The Telefónica building was the first skyscraper in Spain and the tallest skyscraper in Europe for some time. Although we only spent a short time there, it was very interesting to see the progression of the means of communication used as well as other technology. This included typewriters and a variety of communication devices ranging from telegraphs to modern cellphones. 

It was particularly interesting to know how Telefónica was used during the Civil War. Because it was the tallest building in Madrid, it was used as a bomb target by Franco’s army, while the Republican army used it as a military observatory.  


After the planned portion of the day concluded, we had free time to venture on our own. Because the tour ended near Malasaña, a group of us decided to explore the neighborhood. We ate lunch near Plaza de San Idelfonso at a restaurant called Naif and then headed out to the vintage and thrift stores in the area. Thrift stores seem to be somewhat of a new trend here compared to the United States, as indicated by the higher prices. Luckily this past Sunday, a small group of us decided to go to El Rastro Flea Market in La Latina, where we were able to find many things we liked (e.g., jewelry, posters, magnets, souvenirs, etc.) at an affordable price.  

Additionally, because it was siesta time, many of the stores were closed. Therefore, we decided to briefly stop by Gran Via and make our way back to the hotel. After that break, we had dinner at Mercado de San Idelfonso, which had many different types of food from other countries. Some of what I remember seeing included food from the Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Peru, etc. The food was fairly priced, and the outdoor seating was full of artwork. Something that I really appreciate about the city of Madrid is the variety of traditional Spanish food, as well as cuisine from other parts of the world. This makes me believe that although Spain may not be the imperial power it used to be, Madrid still has the essence of the capital of the world it once was. 

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

I have seen many different sports in my life and they were all interesting in their own way. The feeling of cheering with the crowd in any sport is one like no other. You can always feel the energy, and the excitement that the crowd brings, as well as the people performing give to everyone. I feel like I always end up finding myself becoming interested in all of the sports and events that this world has to offer, and I can never get over it, especially seeing how others react to their favorite sport. That’s why going to one of the most prestigious bullfighting arenas was so fascinating to me. Even if I may not agree with every aspect about bullfighting itself, I will find interest in how amazing the stadium itself looked, how important it is to the people of Spain, Portugal, France, and all around Europe.

We started the day off by taking the metro to La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, and from the second we entered the metro you notice the difference in cultures from the people there. From the difference in style that everyone is wearing, which in my opinion is really unique and beautiful, to the people who are playing music with their guitars and different instruments on the metro which has a very delightful rhythm to it. 

Once we got to La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas you instantly noticed the architecture of the place and I automatically began to wonder how long it took to complete and how difficult it was to build. The tour guide, who’s name was Raul, was very funny and interesting which made the tour much more entertaining. He told us that the architecture of the building had a mixture Catholic and Muslim art style which was very interesting to observe. It was built in 1922 and it was fully introduced in 1931, which was a big reason of why the architecture had a mixture of both Catholic and Muslim style to it because it has styles that have been previously used in other famous buildings and bullrings throughout Spain. Further into the tour we began seeing the different bulls that have been taxidermied that were examples of what the “perfecting fighting bulls” were in the eyes of the bullfighting aspect. Raul explained that the bulls need to be aggressive, have high stamina, strength, and need to be in between 460 kg (881.8 lbs) to 600 kg (1322.7 lbs). After this part we went to the stands where we can see the entire stadium as a whole which was something that I never thought that I would have the chance to experience. We also had the chance to go to the ground level of the stadium which felt like such a surreal moment when I first saw it. 

Museo Taurino de Madrid

After the tour of the stadium itself we went to the Museo Taurino de Madrid which gave us a lot of information on the history of bullfighting and La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. We had the chance to learn about Manuel Rodriguez “Manolete” and Antonio Bienvenida who were known as the “Batman” and “Superman” of the bullfighting world because of how good they were, and how big of an influence they had on the bullfighting world. As well as all of the people who had huge milestones for bullfighting as a whole. For instance, Juantia Cruz was the pioneer for women to become official bullfighters. She wasn’t allowed to become one at first for many made-up reasons by the president, but after she continued to pursue her dreams, and trained other women who wanted to become bullfighters, she made it so that others like her would be able to do what they want to do.

La Buha

Following the tour, a couple of us decided that we wanted to get some food in the city and explore for a little bit. We ended up going to a restaurant that was close to La Rastra which was called Taberna La Buha and the area it was located in had an amazing atmosphere to it. The music that was being played in the restaurant was very hip music that everyone could recognize and enjoy, even if it was in English or spanish.  The menu had a variety of tortillas to choose from that had an option for everyone to choose from. But the interesting part to me is that there’s a normal tortilla to share with everyone at the table, and a mini tortilli which sounds very deceiving from the name that it is given because it is the opposite of that.

El Corte Inglés

After getting dinner we went to go buy some clothes (which ended up not having any that we were looking for) at El Corte Ingles which has 9 floors with many different options on each one. You can find everything there from furniture to electronics and it also has a beautiful view of the whole city on the top floor where you can enjoy the many options of food that they have to offer, or even if you just would like to relax and have a drink. That’s where we ended up going to see the beautiful view that it has to offer as the sunsets once we found out that there aren’t that many clothes to buy there.

Doña luz

Later that night we met up with the rest of the people who came on the trip with me to a rooftop restaurant that someone suggested that we should all go too. There was a variety of good food and enjoyable music from all types of genres and eras. Going on this trip I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first time going to a new country, and going with a bunch of people who I didn’t know did not make it any better. But I feel like I got close with everyone here and made some really good friends. Madrid was a fun place to visit and I loved every second of it!

Strolling through El Prado

Monday was groovy from start to finish. The rainy morning seemed like the day would be a little gloomy, but the sun started to peak out as the day went on. After hearing more about Madrid’s history, getting to hear about all the local, noteworthy spots, and, of course, taking notes of the many, many recommendations of spots to stop by from our tour guides, a group ventured out to El Prado later in the afternoon. 

The group I started the journey with consisted of all students that had previously researched El Prado alongside me earlier in the semester. While taking our stroll through the city, and even finding some great food along the way, we got to know each other better than we had previously while inside the classroom, and enjoyed each other’s company to a greater extent. We were able to see a whole other half of the city that we had not previously been able to explore while sharing stories along the way about our early travel experiences, and laughing about all of our initial nerves. I was able to make small connections with fellow honors students from a variety of class levels, majors, and even campuses. I am so thankful to have been able to watch how close-knit we have become in such a short amount of time while bonding over new experiences, adventures, and opportunities. 

As we approached El Prado, a line wrapped around almost half of the building itself, and, after seeing all that the museum holds, it is no wonder why. We made our way through the museum while keeping in mind all that we had read earlier on in the semester, and recalling some of the most noteworthy pieces we wanted to be able to see in person. I, myself, can hardly draw a straight line, so seeing the exquisite detail and attention that went into all of the pieces of art that are displayed throughout the museum was more than impressive. We kept reminding each other how long ago some of the paintings were actually created, and it was truly astonishing to reflect on the amount of creativity and imaginativeness that every artist on display embodied. I admire the attention to detail and level of experience in all of the works, and urge that this location be put on the top of your bucket list as words do not do it justice. 

The works of Francisco Goya were typically surrounded by a small crowd, and there is no wonder why. I admire his tendency to stray from the more typical art style of his time that usually depicted religious scenes or nature, and, instead, address social issues and step out of the box, all while using colors and techniques that truly stand out among others’ works. The group that I enjoyed all that the museum had to offer with unanimously agreed that seeing Saturn Devouring His Son was something we had to witness in person, mostly just due to its ability to make almost anyone do an initial double-take and question what the artist’s true goal was. It is shocking and definitely a little gorey, but the colors and hidden meaning behind the painting is what really made me appreciate seeing the real deal in person to a greater extent. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch was another noteworthy piece that we, collectively, spent the longest amount of time admiring, purely because of how much there is to see in the painting, and how comical some of the individual scenes or objects are in the bigger picture. Another student mentioned that Bosch was daring, especially for the 1500s, to paint such bizarre scenes, and, similarly to Goya, I think this work stood out due to the tendency of the artist to stray from the norm of the time. This lesson can be taken away from this experience, but also applied in other aspects of life. It is beneficial, in most cases, to stray from the norm and venture onto new experiences. I am very thankful I went out on a limb and initially submitted my application to apply for study abroad, as I would likely never have had the opportunity or excuse to take a stroll through El Prado, and gain a newfound appreciation and respect for historical artwork as a whole. Being able to connect what I gained from class discussions and presentations to real-world situations was incredible and I am absolutely thrilled to see where the rest of our trip leads us.